Affirmations of identity: the story of a South Asian American sorority

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Accapadi, Mamta Motwani

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As universities strive to meet the needs of their continually diversifying constituencies, the issue of serving diverse populations has steadily been at the forefront of dialogue in higher education. The Asian American student population is one of the fastest growing populations within the arena of higher education, thus there is a critical need for student affairs practitioners to understand the complexities of the Asian American community (Hune, 2002). Minimal efforts are made by higher education researchers and practitioners on university campuses to explore the unique needs of Asian American students on predominantly White campuses. Given the vast ethnic diversity of the Asian American community, it is important to study specific communities to understand the complexity of the Asian American community. This study focuses on a South Asian student organization. The main purpose of this ethnographic case study is to determine how involvement in a South Asian American sorority impacts the identity development of South Asian American collegiate women. The research questions central to this inquiry were: 1) What factors motivate South Asian American women to join a South Asian interest sorority? 2) In what ways do joining a South Asian interest sorority impact the identity development of South Asian American women? This study is a qualitative, ethnographic case study. Data for this study were drawn from in-depth interviews with South Asian American women college students who are members of Kappa Phi Gamma Sorority, Inc., as well as from group observations, and focus group dialogue. Participants were recruited to participate in the study through an informational presentation and written request to the National Board of the sorority, and email request to the sorority members. Any student who fit the criteria of being a member of the sorority for at least one full year, and held a leadership position within the sorority was invited to participate in the interview process. This study contributed to the literature focused on understanding the identity-relevant needs of Asian American students on predominantly White college campuses, with a specific focus on South Asian American women. “The ‘formal’ scholarship on the topic of South Asian and Asian American campus groups is scarce,” (Gupta, 1998, p 127) thus this study added to this body of research.